/ 22 February 2023

Pharrell Williams to Louis Vuitton: The right move at the right time

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Louis Vuitton confirmed on Tuesday that Oscar and Grammy Award-winning music producer Pharrell Williams will succeed the late Virgil Abloh as menswear creative director.

Louis Vuitton confirmed on Tuesday that Oscar and Grammy Award-winning music producer Pharrell Williams will succeed the late Virgil Abloh as menswear creative director. Williams’s first collection will be shown in June next year, during Men’s Paris Fashion Week. 

It was a surprise when Williams’s appointment was announced. The fashion world had been waiting for over 18 months since Abloh succumbed to cancer in 2021, with the media and industry backing younger, traditional designers, such as Martine Rose and Grace Wales Bonner, to take his place. 

His appointment is an interesting move. Williams is not a traditionally trained fashion designer but when have any of Louis Vuitton’s designers sat in the category of “traditional”? 

However, Williams is no novice in the luxury fashion world. He founded his brand Billionaire Boys Club in the early 2000s, and has lifestyle brand Human Race and three collaborations with Louis Vuitton under his belt, as well as collections with Moncler, Adidas and Chanel.  

“Pharrell Williams is a visionary whose creative universes expand from music to art and to fashion — establishing himself as a cultural, global icon over the past 20 years. 

“The way in which he breaks boundaries across the various worlds, he explores, aligns with Louis Vuitton’s status as a cultural maison, reinforcing its values of innovation, pioneer spirit and entrepreneurship,” LVMH said. 

LVMH’s choice of Williams makes good business sense. The 50-year-old creative juggernaut — who famously does not age — has the follower bases in music and fashion, as well as the name and weight, to generate revenue and keep the stream steady. 

Does Louis Vuitton need a fashion designer, per se? Its ultimate goal is to make money for shareholders and its ready-to-wear amounts to a fragment of what accessories and lifestyle products contribute to the $20 billion annual revenue. 

Contemporary fashion would not be what it is today without hip-hop. Williams, with his skateboarding style, was an early pioneer in the high-fashion-meets-hip-hop world. Abloh used hip hop cultural figures to tell stories. Some see Williams’ appointment as an acknowledgement of hip-hop’s influence on luxury fashion, while others view it as another move within hype culture. 

Expect the unexpected

Over the past decade, Louis Vuitton has proved to be more than a fashion house, it’s a cultural house with larger ambitions. It has projects beyond fashion, such as the hotel it plans to open in Paris in five years’ time. The appointment of a creative director at Louis Vuitton, therefore, sets a precedent for other creative directors, both within and outside of LVMH’s fashion portfolio. 

Oscar-winning entertainer Williams’s hand in fashion, beauty and hotels makes him well equipped to meet the demands of a brand the size of Louis Vuitton. 

His multifaceted skills are culture-facing and his military-like discipline will assist with the demands of a creative director job, which goes beyond just designing collections to producing large-scale shows, opening stores and thinking of campaign concepts. 

A well-known lover of jewellery, Williams’s recent claim to fashion fame — besides his super-tall power hat — is his once-off sunglasses collaboration with Tiffany & Co, a recent addition to the LVMH portfolio. In 2008, LV released “Blason”, a jewellery collection designed by Williams and Camille Miceli after his first collaboration with LV in 2005, titled “Millionaire”. 

Blason was all about the rhythm and energy of Europe in the 21st century harmonising with the spirit of historic Europe, with bejewelled belt buckles and spinning rings, perfect for ballers. The preceding collaborations between Louis Vuitton and Williams are a perfect setup for creative director ambitions. 

Change in tides

Williams’s appointment comes at a time when the fashion industry is in dire need of transformation through natural evolution by shaking up the creative direction of the top houses under LVMH and Kering. 

Through recent hires, they have shown a shift from hiring media-friendly figureheads with a knack for marketing and hype mechanisms, to those who quietly learn the required craft before being handed the keys. 

There is bigger transformation at Kering who are trying to rebrand what Gucci stands for with more classic tailoring and opening specialised luggage stores. 

There are other promising new shifts, such as Gucci’s quiet hire of former Valentino designer Sabato de Sarno to succeed the funky opulence of Alessandro Michele. 

Formerly of Céline and Chloe, Phoebe Philo has finally announced that her brand is launching in September, with backing from LVMH. Daniel Lee’s move to Burberry hints at bringing back British heritage with a new logo. While at Balenciaga, fallen creative director Demna Gvasalia is transitioning out of trouble after countless insensitive campaigns and overhyped vapid products.  

Demna’s recent interview with Vogue says they are moving away from grand shows which overshadow the pieces in favour of going back to the design codes of Cristobel Balenciaga — although it might be too little too late. 

February is also London Fashion Week, where major fashion conglomerates head-hunt younger talent, designers and recent graduates from Central Saint Martins’s fashion design programme whose alumni include Alexander McQueen, Wales Bonner and John Galliano. 

Williams’s first collection will be shown in June next year, during Men’s Paris Fashion Week. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Variety via Getty Images)

Moncler, will hold their Moncler Genius show where designers are invited to reimagine their design codes by opening big-scale presentations to the public, an uncommon thing to do in fashion.  

When it comes to questioning LVMH’s choice of a culture-curating veteran over a younger, fresher designer, it is important to remember what makes sense for a time period and its sensibilities. 

Williams is a good fit in a post-Abloh Louis Vuitton world. The house’s menswear formula remained steady, especially after a flash-in-the-pan collaboration with KidSuper, whose pieces pointed to a continuation of LV’s spirit of collaboration, street style, and nods to Abloh’s legacy. It might be hard to move LV away from the legacy of Abloh, but Williams has what it takes to move the brand forward.